Thoughts on Racism

by DB Absher

“Some semi-random thoughts:

1) From slave revolts to abolitionism to Reconstruction to Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter, black-led anti-racist struggle has been THE great engine of social transformation in American society. In all these cases, multiracial formations have acted to destroy the most basic conceptual and material underpinnings of the American system of exploitation and oppression (aka the economy).

2) Each of these movements heralded a world beyond the myth of whiteness. In so doing, they offered to those socialized into whiteness the possibility of re-imagining and re-appropriating their existence. The struggle for what Angela Davis has called “Abolition Democracy” is, not only about the liberation of people who have been enslaved. exploited, marginalized, and excluded in the racial caste hierarchy, but also, for those deluded by whiteness, the possibility of a renewed experience of their own being, freed of the lie of white superiority.

3) While the end of the “White Lie” is certainly a central aspect of all these movements for liberation, they should not put whiteness or white people at their center, and have avoided doing so in their most successful moments. There are several reasons: Whiteness is, as Charles Mills insists, as much a form of socialized ignorance as it is a status endowed with social power and privilege. People socialized into whiteness are frequently unaware of the experiences of people who have been cast as racialized Others and will therefore make bad strategic/tactical decisions based on this ignorance. Moreover, people socialized as white often unintentionally (and frequently quite deliberately) invoke their privilege – i.e. return to the shelter of white supremacy and the White Lie – to ignore the voices and experiences of people who have been cast as racialized Others. They thus produce a kind of “Group Think” – call it “White Think” – structured around their own privilege and ignorance that can only cast them as virtuous saviors while reproducing the very structures of racialized exploitation and oppression they supposedly seek to end.

4) The “abolition of slavery” did not end the hyper-exploitation of racialized labor and what Marxists call “primitive accumulation” that characterized the early American system of exploitation and oppression (aka the American economy). Our system remains a vast machine fueled by robbery, murder, abuse, and forced labor; where surpluses (aka “profit”) are distributed to those who “count” on the basis of class, race, sex, sexuality, etc. Generally speaking, Left organizations (particularly, but not exclusively “non-profits”) reproduce this system in their internal structure and culture, with racialized hierarchies of command, divisions of labor, and distributions of surplus only mitigated by half-hearted tokenism. This applies, ipso facto, to organizations that claim to fight against racism – organizations who frequently pat themselves on the back for virtuously hosting a workshop on “white privilege,” elevating tokenized Others into positions of “leadership” (who are subsequently isolated, ignored, and gaslighted), and often pay staff of color less than their white bosses.”

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